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March 11, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We are going to continue with our media availability from today's TicketGuardian 500 here at ISM Raceway.
We're joined by members of our race‑winning team, which is the No.4 Jimmy John's Ford for Stewart‑Haas Racing.
We're joined by our crew chief, Rodney Childers, and team owner, Tony Stewart.
Tony, not only to win three in a row here with Kevin, but all four Stewart‑Haas teams in the top 10 today, pretty good day for the team.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it was an awesome day for us. That's probably what I'm most proud of. It's the first time in our organization's history that we had all four cars in the top 10.
Just proud of everybody at Stewart‑Haas Racing. So many people that don't get a chance to come to the track each weekend because they're working hard at the shop. I think this weekend really is a big thank you to those guys for everything they've done.
They've just done an amazing job. Can't say enough about these two guys sitting next to me. I mean, when they get on a tear like this, you just kind of stand back and watch and enjoy the ride. It's fun to watch these guys when they get clicking like this.
THE MODERATOR: Rodney, take us through the final stage from atop the pit box. Must have been pretty exciting.
RODNEY CHILDERS: Yeah, I felt like we had a pretty good car there. We were still struggling off the corner. We took another stab at the end. It seemed to be a little bit better. You just don't know when the right time is to pit. Kind of wanted to wait a few more laps. Then the 9 peeled off and pitted. That kind of left us no choice than to pit and stay in front of him at least, try to gain a lap on the 18.
We had a little trouble on pit road, ended up behind the 24 when we got strung back out. It was fortunate that we had a good enough car to be able to get back to him, at least race with him.
But, man, it was a heck of a battle today. To sit down there in the corner and watch these guys race like that was, like, my short track days of battling with some good old guys back around Tri‑County and stuff.
I like racing like that. Sometimes you want a dominant car and drive away. To win one after you've battled all day is pretty awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin, this is your third win in a row this year, ninth here at Phoenix. You really had a battle. Take us through that final stage and how much fun it was out there.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I guess after the second stage, first stage, I don't remember which one, when you have Kyle Busch sticking his finger out of the window with his thumb up talking about having fun and sending messages on the radio, you know everybody is having fun.
I could tell that myself and Kyle and Denny, the 9, it seemed like those were going to be the guys it came down to. The racetrack opened up and got a couple grooves. I just told Tony, I never could get to a point where I felt like I could slide up like I did in front of the 9 in front of the 11. It wound up costing me a bunch of time. Kyle wound up getting by us.
Just really proud of everybody. After everything this week, everybody just came here mad, chip on their shoulder, wanting to do exactly what we did today. That's the type of determination and grit that you want in a race team. There's nothing better to be a part of than something like that. Actions speak a whole lot louder than all the words I can say this week, tweets that you can send out. Parking that thing in Victory Lane is the most powerful thing, most powerful message you can send, and says the most about our organization and our team.
To have all four cars in the top 10 is something that I've never been a part of at Stewart‑Haas Racing. Has that ever happened?
TONY STEWART: First time.
KEVIN HARVICK: It was kind of a weird weekend because I was mad.
TONY STEWART: That's a weird weekend (laughter)? What's weird about that? That's normal.
KEVIN HARVICK: But myself and Clint and Aric were able to spend time together. Clint and I didn't have our motorhomes out here. Aric spent a lot of time in the trailer working on his racecar. Spent a lot of time with him this week trying to make sure they ran good.
He texted me last night. He's like, Man, I think we've got a solid top‑10 car.
I said, Dude, you've got a top‑five car. You need to go out and run in the top five.
So to see him up there, I saw Clint up there, Kurt winning a stage, that's really the most important thing because that progression as a race team, when everybody ups the ante on the car, you learn something from each car and each person. The confidence in the company goes up. The evolution of things starts to happen more rapidly. Now that the 10 car is in that evolution, it is good for our company.
Just really proud of everybody.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for our race‑winning team.
Q. Maybe it harkens back from your wrestling days. Isn't it fair to say a mad Kevin Harvick is a dangerous Kevin Harvick?
KEVIN HARVICK: I told Josh yesterday, and I probably shouldn't tell Rodney this, Gil Martin was my crew chief for most of the years at RCR. He used to try to make me mad during the race, say things to me. He'd try to tick me off. Man, when you're mad, there's just something different.
But, you know, I tell you guys this all the time, I mean, I'm 42, done this for a long time. Any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me that's just a piece of the puzzle that I like to be a part of and feel that controversy and that enthusiasm.
Succeeding in these types of moments with all that controversy swirling around you, there's nothing better. Like I say, there's nothing louder than the action of parking that car in Victory Lane.
Q. Does it make you a better driver, or do you just enjoy it more when you have success in those circumstances?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't know. What do you think?
This weekend felt like a Playoff moment for us because our team‑‑ when you get into those Playoff moments, you have all the guys, everybody looking at the racecar, that determination of every last detail, there's a lot going on in life in general, and it's hard to do that every week. Our team is very good at setting those things aside for 10 weeks during the Playoffs.
It felt more important to win this week than it did to win a race at Homestead for a championship. It felt like that. Everybody felt it. You didn't really have to say anything.
Those are the moments that you just love to live in and be a part of and succeed in. You can't even explain them unless you're a part of them because they're just so rewarding.
Q. Rodney, I had the impression, maybe I'm wrong, watching Kevin racing in stage two, then the final stage, that the car was much quicker in the final stage compared to the second. Did you do any changes to the car? If so, what kind of changes did you do?
RODNEY CHILDERS: Yeah, I mean, most of the race we were just lacking rear grip on entry and exit. We fought that every stop of the race. We just kept trying to make that part better. Really the more we made it better, the faster he was.
It was a little bit of a few things. It was some wedge. It was some air pressure. It was quite a few things.
But like Kevin said, this definitely felt like a Playoff race. It felt like I was at Homestead. Everybody just worked their guts out the whole weekend. It's really cool, like he said, to park it in Victory Lane.
Q. Tony, do you know if you're going to appeal yet the penalty?
TONY STEWART: No, we're not going to appeal it.
Q. Why not?
TONY STEWART: How many appeals have you seen overturned?
Q. Not many.
TONY STEWART: There you go.
Q. Kevin, what in particular made you mad? Was it just the decision, the social media buzz, the fact that the garage is sending everybody photos of stuff?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think I addressed all that on Friday. There's so many good things that have happened right now. You can go back and listen to all those things. I was very open with you guys, answered all your questions, did everything you wanted me to do on Friday. I was very honest about it. Those are my feelings.
Today I'm happy. I'm proud to be a part of an organization and a team that is able to succeed and put all that stuff behind them. There's not many things that you can do to showcase character. When you showcase character and grit as a team, as a unit, that's more powerful than any of us being good at what we do.
When you have that unity as a group, it's so powerful. It makes success not easier to achieve‑‑ well, it makes it easier to achieve, yeah, just because of the fact that everybody is so on the same page and so determined to make something happen.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I didn't jump on the car, but I made it very clear to pat my window and thank it for doing its job this week.
Q. Now that you got some redemption this week, talk about going to Kern County, getting back in the car and not having to worry about anything but winning?
KEVIN HARVICK: As you guys have heard me talk, that's been the thing I've been looking forward to in this West Coast swing, just going home. I think the last time I raced there was 2009, '8 or '9, when they closed Mesa Marin.
I haven't raced at the Kern County racetrack. Myself and Bill McAnally and some of the folks at NASCAR have worked very hard to get the schedule where it is. I feel like it's important for our sport to keep those regional series healthy. To have the season opener out there, have some buzz around it, and this will only help that buzz.
We need those series to be healthy because, in my opinion, all those hardcore NASCAR fans that we talk about losing, a lot of that starts at the grassroots level. The reason that we lose a lot of those fans is because a lot of those racetracks disappear.
I'd love to go out there and have a chance to win the race, but my goal is to draw enough attention to get kids' dads and competitors excited about racing in the K&N Series. We have some good racetracks on the schedule. It's important to keep that type of racing healthy for our sport because I believe the grassroots, hardcore fans live at those racetracks. Those are the hardcore fans that we talk about losing. In order to do that, in order to keep them enthused, we have to build it from the bottom up, from the late models, K&N, to get them to come out. The guys and gals that go watch the races in Tucson, we need to get them to come here and watch the races in Phoenix. The folks in Bakersfield, we need to get them to go to California. We need to reenergize that short track system to get it to the point it needs to be.
Q. Will the emotions of this weekend drive you into next week? Will next week be sort of normal as you go for four?
KEVIN HARVICK: He knows I put a lot of emphasis on California. It's much like Atlanta. Racing in your home state, a racetrack that I really enjoy racing at, I got so amped up that I wrecked it on lap zero last year, knocked the grille out of it, knocked the hood off of it, never got a chance to race.
Yeah, I'm excited about it.
Q. Rodney, Friday you said you felt better about Fontana than you did Phoenix. How do you evaluate your chances on going for four?
RODNEY CHILDERS: I feel like our intermediate programs have been really strong. We got that going really good at the end of the year last year. Our short track stuff, honestly we've struggled with. We've struggled here for a couple years. We've been trying to get that part better.
I felt like at the end of last year we got better. We were better at Martinsville, we were better here, obviously better today. It's hard. It just seems like those two are so much different these days, the short track stuff versus the intermediate stuff.
I feel good about the California car and everything that goes along with that. Obviously he loves racing there, and loves wore‑out racetracks, good at taking care of tires, all that stuff.
I really want to go out there and run good. I felt like in 2015 we had the best car all weekend, got it taken away there at the very end of the race on the last lap. Just really excited about getting out there and going for four.
Q. Around lap 232 to early 240, you and Denny and Kyle were going craze battling for the lead. You couldn't quite get the lead. How much fun was that, because it looked like it? Did that let you know, even though you didn't grab the lead, that you had enough car you could grab it later?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, it let me know that I didn't get in enough of a panic to get by Denny. I needed to be a little more aggressive in that situation. I felt like I did that with the 9. We had Kyle back behind us, and we just didn't need Kyle back in front of us. I let the gap close up. I was a little bit too patient.
I needed to create a gap, and I never had a gap that I felt comfortable sliding up in front of Denny. He did a good job of keeping his car outside of me in the first third of the corner. I was never able to kind of shoot up there and get where I needed to be at the end of the first third towards the center of the corner.
I felt like I did a better job the second time with Chase. I knew that we needed Kyle behind us because I felt like he was the guy we were racing at that point. I felt at that particular moment, we were having a lot of fun, but I took too much time in not making the pass.
Q. What was your conversation with Denny about after the race?
KEVIN HARVICK: I never saw Denny.
Q. Do you have any other things on your bucket list racing‑wise you want to accomplish?
KEVIN HARVICK: That's a good question. I'd love to win at Pocono and Kentucky to mark those two racetracks. Those are the only two racetracks we haven't won at on the Cup schedule.
Really it's about winning championships and races. Winning any race, whether it's a Sprint car race or a Cup race or late model race, that's what we sit in these things for. That's what we show up to do. That's what drives and motivates us to sit in those cars and get excited to do all the work that comes with it, to motivate yourself to show back up.
I'd love to win another championship. I'd love to catch this guy in wins. That would be fun. That would be a good conversation in the shop anyway.
Q. Tony, is this the best SHR has been from top to bottom with all four cars right now?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I don't think there's any question about that. I think we saw that even at Daytona this year, the way all four teams ran at Daytona.
I admit, I thought we were going to get rained out at Atlanta, so I went home, was sitting there. I took a picture of the screen when we had all four cars in the top seven. I took a screen shot of it as a fan. Just kept looking at it, going, This is really cool, never happened for our organization.
Like Kevin mentioned, it just shows the strength of having four really good teammates that are giving four valid sets of information that they can all feed off of and work off of. It just seems like this group of these guys really work well together.
I think a lot of it, too, is having that little extra time like we mentioned last week, for these guys to be able to massage everything, take everything we had had and make it better.
It's nice to look on the board and see all four cars in the top 10. That's a proud moment.
Q. Do you think you running the K&N car will encourage other drivers to run some type of late model racing?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't remember who I had this conversation with. I think that needs to be a part of our initiative. A guy like Chase Elliott would love to go run late model races at any late model track in the country, instead of going to do an appearance. That's what pushes his buttons. A guy like Jimmie Johnson has no real interest in running any extra races, like a guy like Jeff Gordon didn't.
If we could find that niche. I would love to build the K&N West Series back to what it needs to be, that enthusiasm, get to the right racetracks, help those kids. For me it was an eye‑opener last year when I went to Sonoma and saw the impact that running that race had on the competitors, the series.
The fans will sometimes say, You're cherry picking. I would tell you, nobody would know who Will Rodgers is unless it was for us running that race, having him on the radio show, bringing him to the pit box the next day, these guys take him in.
If we can shed some light on those particular series, really build them back to where they need to be. I have so many thoughts on this. That's just for a different conversation, so...
Building everything from the grassroots up, I love that part of our sport. This guy has been a part of grassroots racing from the Sprint cars and midgets. I've been mad at Sperber here for a couple years now because he won't have the K&N cars come race here because it doesn't help his budget.
In the end, without those grassroots fans, those grassroots people, coming and being able to race here, whether it fits your budget or not, 10 years from now you better hope you have your ass some people that will sit in the stands up here and wanting to watch these races at your short tracks because those are your hardcore fans, those are your grassroots fans.
One of the best things that happened for racing, it's not just about NASCAR, was when we had the Copper Classic here. We had midgets, Sprint cars. Didn't matter how many people sat in the grandstands. As competitors, those guys, this was their Daytona. On the West Coast, this is what we thought our Daytona 500 was. This is where everybody wanted to race.
It's kicking those guys low on the K&N West Series that they don't get to come and race at this particular racetrack because of the fact there's a little bit of a pissing contest between a budget, what is right, what is wrong from a sanctioning fee side on Trucks and Xfinity. So they cut the K&N guys out.
Cutting the grassroots side of things out is not the right way to do things. Those guys, they just want to race. This is a crown jewel race for those guys. The thought process for me is broken. When I look at our hardcore fans, they're all sitting at those short tracks and they're mad. They're mad because you don't have a Winston who is supporting these short tracks like they used to. Winston used to infuse so much money into these short tracks around the country. That's what kept it going, that is what kept people showing up to these racetracks because there was point funds.
But when we had the Copper Classic, you had TV out there. Everybody could get sponsors, they'd show up to race. They'd come from all over the country. There would be, I don't even know how many Sprint cars and midgets, but there would be 70, 80, Southwest Tour cars, you would have a Truck race.
I don't know. I have a lot of things that I think about. I love grassroots side of things, though.
TONY STEWART: Bob Bahre was probably the best at that. You guys that follow this every week, Bob Bahre used to bring in series that I promise you he lost his butt on. He paid probably more guys tow money to race at his racetrack that he ever brought back in revenue. He realized how important it was to the region, how important was to the teams and drivers.
Like Kevin mentioned, the Copper Classic, I ran second to Mike Bliss here. That one race got me a huge opportunity to drive for some really big teams. Now you don't have things like that.
We can afford to spend $170 million to move the frontstretch from there over to there. I still have no idea what the reason for that is. I guess we probably can't afford to run any support races here that cost the track some money.
Q. Rodney, had someone told you a few weeks ago your driver would win three races in a row, what would you have said?
RODNEY CHILDERS: I don't know. Like I said last week, you just don't know going into these seasons where you stand as a team, as a company, from an aerodynamic standpoint, from a mechanical grip standpoint. All those things, you have no idea. You don't know what other people have worked on over the winter.
But all you do know is that your race team has worked hard, that people at the engine shop have worked hard, all that stuff. But I felt like fighting our way through last year, especially on the 4 team, but fighting our way through last year, all the things of growing and getting better, finally getting things rolling there at the end of the Chase, it made our team believe in each other and get behind each other.
You learn from every moment. Yeah, I wouldn't have known that or said that. But we go to try to win every week. If we have a car capable of winning, then he's going to park it in Victory Lane every time.
Like I said earlier, it's just about putting good cars out there and letting him do his thing.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports